General Assembly is an educational institution seeking to be the pioneer of career transformation by specializing in today’s most in-demand skills. GA is the leading source for training, staffing, and career transitions.
General Assembly’s UXDI Program requires external client partnerships for student final projects. How might we revise GA’s client recruitment process to save time and effort — between GA UXDI staff and clients — to improve the funnel of businesses who partner with GA and their students?
- PROJECT TIMELINE: 2.5 Weeks
- ROLE: UX Designer, Project Manager
- TEAM: Vincent Brathwaite, Tamora Petitt, Diego Mas González
- TOOLSET: Pen, Paper, Whiteboards, Keynote, Google Sheets, Sketch
- DELIVERABLES: Revised Client User Flow (Sketch File, PDF), Client User Interview Anti-Bias Document (Google Sheet), User Interviewee Client Email Template
A refined GA partnership sourcing and onboarding method — showcased in a User Flow — that simplifies the recruitment process for GA final student projects.
PHASE 1: DEVELOPING THE IDEA
I was hired by General Assembly as a full-time UXDI Instructional Associate (IA) in January of this year. Generally, IAs were tasked by their Instructional Teams with sourcing external clients for student UX final projects.
Shortly after starting my role, I discovered that the prior process for client partnership within GA NYC was convoluted — clients would come into view as referrals from team members after filling out an online application form and through professional connections from networking websites like LinkedIn.
Without a streamlined process in place, these mixed methods were the norm for the campus. This resulted in stress among staff that were directly impacted by this — some teams even had the unfortunate experience of having to scramble to find new clients at the last minute due to sudden retractions from the program.
My team shared with me their issues in client sourcing in the past and how best to consider improving it:
“Clients in the past had complained that we had too many forms, with repetitive questions — it may have served as more of a barrier to entry.”
“We should UX the process — what are the necessary steps when someone sends in an application? When they are recommended to us? And when we review their application?”
In the forthcoming weeks, we would set out to improve this experience for forthcoming Instructional Teams and their student cohorts.
PHASE 2: RECRUITMENT RESEARCH
Speaking with others whom had sourced clients and experienced difficulty in the process, I wanted to begin my research and improve the process right away.
Looking to immediate avenues for potential clients, I looked first to the official GA method — the General Assembly UXDI Partnerships page.
Upon entering the UX Partnership page and clicking the “Become a Client” call-to-action, the user is provided with an online form of standardized questions. Highlights from this form include questions such as:
“Give us your best 30-second elevator pitch of your business.”
“How can our students help your team achieve their goals through UX support?”
”In order for our teams to design user-centric solutions, they need users to interview…would you be prepared to connect your student team with a…sample of customers who are engaged and willing to participate in interviews, surveys and usability tests?”
Once answers are provided, the feedback is automatically submitted to an alias inbox that is reviewed by an Instructor Manager (IM). IMs support both the students and the Instructional Team in managing the course overall. These answers are then passed to the Instructional Team to determine if next-steps will be conducted with the applicant regarding a partnership.
The second client sourcing method included examining excess clients from prior UXDI cohorts. As I entered my role in mid-January, I was fortunate to connect with fellow IAs whom had already navigated the ambiguity of this process and were wrapping up their respective cohorts.
Speaking with two of my peers, they referenced an internal UXDI Client Tracker Google Sheet. IAs were able to update as this sheet as their sourcing continued.
The problem? Not all of the IAs used the same resources.
While some Instructional Teams kept their tracker updated throughout their recruitment, others were forced to move quickly in order to secure clients by additional calls or cold outreach — at times being unable to update the document due to their pressing needs and lack of time.
In having these direct conversations, I was able to better understand whom was available for outreach versus whom was not. If any potential clients weren’t in the tracker, colleagues would also forward me their email strings of previous outreach they had started previously, in order for me to continue the conversation and explore partnership possibilities.
I also learned that there were some caveats in engaging with entirely new companies who weren’t already in contact with GA. We would send them a cold-outreach form, which summarized the GA application process for those receiving it in hopes of sparking an interest in them to partner with us.
PHASE 3: THESE AREN’T THE FORMS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
The culmination of the breadth of this sourcing problem occurred when a colleague had wanted to put me in contact with a potential client.
Engaging in a conversation with them, I noted that I was unable to find their original application submission — it had not been forwarded to me by an IM as had been done with other applications, nor could I find any IA-forwarded email strings to me about the company.
The reasoning for this process was pretty simple: I wanted to have a clear understanding of the UX help that this business was looking to find with us.
When asked about this missing form, I was asked to reconnect with my colleague, as they suggested that she might have the form that I was seeking.
As I could not verify their submission, our team chose to provide the company with a follow-up questionnaire. This follow-up expanded on the original online application. The form asked more specific and complimentary questions to the application, so as to guide students in their work with the client business. Questions included:
“What additional support can you provide to your student team (i.e. developer consultations, access to stakeholders, beta app versions)?”
“What is your existing digital platform?”
“What are the perceived problems with your product?”
Other core elements to this follow-up ask that the UX partner not require a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This would allow our students to post their work freely in their professional portfolios, helping them showcase their work in the job search.
It turned out, several weeks after this exchange, the team learned that there was an internal document that the prospect company had completed but which that had not been managed upwards to the UXDI Instructional Team for review and approval for next-steps.
PHASE 4: THE OLD WAY BRINGS A NEW BEGINNING
It would only be after these various interactions — emails, cold-calls, review of excess client lists, and follow-ups — that teams could schedule client calls, as well as in-person interviews, to finalize clients for student projects.
This process was simply taking too much energy and time.
Our team came to the profound realization that we needed to break this process apart and rebuild it for the better.
To paraphrase Game of Thrones fan-favorite, Daenarys Targaryen, if you can’t stop the wheel from turning, you’ll need to break it.
PHASE 5: THE OLD WAY BRINGS A NEW BEGINNING
Our UXDI cohort officially launched on January 22, 2019. The final date of our cohort was April 3, 2019. Clients were required to be locked-in for UX partnership by March 7, 2019.
By February 20th, while the students were in the midst of their third UX project, the team wanted to come together to determine the current constraints within the partnership process (as I outlined above).
We first chose to layout the current partnership process that we knew to be true. We would assess the required documentation for client applicants and then strategically decide what should be kept or changed in terms of sourcing methodology moving forward.
In our assessment of this process, we came to the following conclusions:
1. The GA UX Partnership Form and the Follow-Up Questionnaire would be merged into a singular Google Form for applicants.
2. Per applicant responses, a project brief would be developed for review by both groups on a client call.
3. A client call would be scheduled to review additional questions clients had regarding the project and brief.
4. Following the call, the Instructional Team would decide if partnership was feasible and schedule a final in-person meetings between both groups.
As we continued to explore this work, we came to an additional conclusion: that our proposed final step, the in-person meeting segment, was unnecessary.
Due to the time constraints we faced in this short ten-week period, we decided to combine our initial client screening call with the information we would convey in the client in-person meeting. I will be elaborating on that reasoning shortly within this overview.
PHASE 6: CONTINUING THE SEARCH
Taking all of the above refinements into account, the team continued in its recruitment efforts. All of us posted to our LinkedIn network, or continued to connect with people in our community through tools like Slack.
In the end, we were able to secure five clients through these methods: a client serving the mental health community, a client launching her own college education tool, a client operating in the subscription beauty space, a client working in the educational loan space and finally, a client working in the e-gifting industry.
PHASE 7: SMART AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
Historically for GA, after the Instructional Team would agree to move forward with a client through conference calls, a final in-person meeting.
This meeting would allow both groups to review an overview of partnership expectations, additional alterations to the project, required meetings with students, additional documents for students to consider in their design work, and the final project presentation deadline.
In our case, our client call would highlight a partnership pitch deck, which provided that relevant project information, kickoff dates with student teams, as well as expectations between the student and business.
I was tasked with developing the presentation deck and any supporting materials that would help clients not only sign-on to the partnership but provide capable interview participants to students. You can find an overview of that presentation and supporting documents below.
Overall, the client deck and supporting documentation proved effective, as not only did clients appreciate this presentation of information but it made them very eager to get the project started, as their barrier-to-entry was lessened with documents being made available for them to kickstart the process on students’ behalf.
PHASE 8: PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Now with clients secured for students and expectations set between GA and client partners, the final step was the documentation of our process.
This experience was not easy — at various times, our team was not only iterating in the moment but scrambling to attain immediate results from efforts; changing the process would help additional cohorts plan ahead in their work, whereas we served as the guinea pigs navigating these changes for the first time.
In the end, the drive for change paid off; new cohorts will have new ways to easily get potential applicants in the partnership funnel and this will allow Instructional Teams to do what they do best — help others learn, while keeping a pulse on startups who wish to grow through General Assembly.
Our final step in this process was documentation of our changes. We wanted to document the new application process that we had all worked so hard to streamline.
The solution? A User Flow!
We wanted to provide GA with a visualization of what the new client sourcing process would become moving forward based on the changes we had made. In this task, we needed to show the revised entry points, tasks, and decision points that the UXDI Instructional Team, as well as client applicants, would now have to go through for future partnerships.
Looking at the finished flow, I went forward and created a Sketch file that depicted this flow digitally. After applying GA’s branding to the flow, the digital overview was saved for Instructional Team use.
In the weekly faculty meeting for UX staff, the new recruiting process was shared amongst faculty members to review.
After discussing the merits of this new process, as well explaining the issues we faced, each UX team agreed to utilize this process for recruitment within the GA NYC campus moving forward to improve the process for future student cohorts.
PHASE 9: UX YOUR LIFE!
When I returned to General Assembly early on this year, I had a general idea of the type of work I would be doing but I did not foresee how UX principles could be taken beyond the scope of design projects.
Honestly, I truly expected my “UX Hat” to be on in the classroom when aiding students and for this client work to act as a business development piece to my workday. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
User Experience Design is in our businesses — the procedures we follow, the work we present, and the tools that we use. User Experience Design is in our interactions with people and how we share our stories of our professional growth. User Experience Design is in our understanding of what is and what can be, as we can use our skillset to truly listen to others to solve for their needs.
In our case, we solved for the needs of not only General Assembly but of future students who will be hungry for the opportunity to aid businesses in their new UX understanding. We have also solved for future clients — companies who may not have engaged with GA beforehand — by aiding them in their understanding of what GA can offer to address their UX needs.
This is what UX did and there is still more that UX can do. You’ll find me in the middle of it.
Thank you for reading.